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Gulfport Marks 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act of 1964

By Evelina Burnett | Published 02 Jul 2014 02:51pm | comments

The city of Gulfport is marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. MPB’s Evelina Burnett spoke with Mississippians about how the legislation led to sweeping changes in American society, from voting rights to education.

About 50 people gathered in front of Gulfport’s City Hall for a ceremony on Tuesday morning. It was 50 years to the day that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes read a proclamation from the city marking the anniversary.

"The Civil Rights Act threw open the door for legislation that strengthened voting rights and established fair housing standards for all Americans," he read. "Fifty years later, we know that our country works best when we can accept our obligations to one another, embrace the belief that our destiny is shared and draw strength from the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth."

The bill also ended racial discrimination in schools. Ruth Storey, president of the Gulfport chapter of the N-double-A-C-P, recalls attending Gulfport’s 33rd Avenue High School during the years of segregation.

"I passed Gulfport High in a school bus to get to 33rd," she says. "So I'm well aware of what the civil rights bill means to America, to African Americas, but to all Americans, because as the mayor said, together we make this a better country, a better city."

Mary Spinks Thigpen was 21 the year the Civil Rights Act was signed. The Hattiesburg native says she wanted to go to the University of Southern Mississippi but her parents wouldn't let her, saying it was too dangerous.

"My mother wouldn't allow me to integrate it because she said she wanted her five little children to live," she says. "So I thank God for their protection, and I thank God for the blacks and the whites that brought forth the unity of integration. It wasn't just one race, it wasn't just the NAACP, so we just thank God for everybody that had a part, and everybody that keeps it going.

The bill also ended discriminatory voter registration rules and helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

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